The Witch Elm

The Witch Elm

Book - 2018
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Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who's dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life - he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family's ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden - and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed. A spellbinding standalone from one of the best suspense writers working today, The Witch Elm asks what we become, and what we're capable of, when we no longer know who we are.
Publisher: New York, New York : Viking, [2018]
ISBN: 9780735224629
0735224625
Branch Call Number: F FRENCH
Characteristics: 509 pages ; 24 cm

Opinion

From Library Staff

“This standalone novel has all the things readers love about the Dublin Murder Squad books–well developed characters, exquisite plotting, and deep explorations of human nature. Toby leads a charmed life with an idyllic childhood, a good family, a loving girlfriend, and promising prospects. But a ... Read More »

“This standalone novel has all the things readers love about the Dublin Murder Squad books–well developed characters, exquisite plotting, and deep explorations of human nature. Toby leads a charmed life with an idyllic childhood, a good family, a loving girlfriend, and promising prospects. But a ... Read More »


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e
emerge
Nov 21, 2018

Well….I finished this a couple of days ago & needed to ponder how I felt about it. French has always been one of my favourite authors but this was a departure from her usual style. Not going to lie…..this is a door stopper of a book & right up to about page 160, I considered putting it down. Toby (at that point) was just not that compelling & he really needs to be as you spend all your time with him. Then they found the skull.

Nothing like good ol’ human remains to make you sit up & pay attention. The story, too, seemed to perk up. Suddenly there was direction & focus to the plot & a new energy infused the prose. This part of the book I enjoyed. The interaction between Toby & certain members of his family is a master class in psychological manipulation. The mind games & gas lighting are at disturbing levels & have us (and Toby) doubting everything. If your recollection is hazy and you accept someone else’s version, is it really a memory? With his addled brain, Toby is at the whim of those around him. But the investigation gives him purpose & you catch glimpses of the man he used to be.

My favourite character may have been Hugo. He’s a kind, decent guy whose hidden depths are only really appreciated after he’s gone. As for the ending…..well, it had me scratching my head. I definitely never saw that coming & I’m still thinking about why it happened.

French is obviously a keen observer & the complicated relationships between family members is very well done. You may not particularly like your sister/cousin/uncle but when push comes to shove you might find yourself doing something you’d never consider for someone who doesn’t share your blood. Trust, loyalty, obligation…these are just some of the themes that play out as 3 cousins are forced to reevaluate the relationships they’d taken for granted.

So kind of a mixed bag for me. Not my favourite of hers but definitely a book that made me think. And that’s not a bad thing. Just as an aside: what's up with the spelling change in the title for N.A. readers? Silliness.

h
harrissusanc
Nov 19, 2018

Twenty something college grad, Toby, dreams of settling down with lovey girlfriend Melissa when he barely escapes death by head blows from a break in in his apartment. Quickly the plot turns to cousins at Uncle Hugo’s and the old skull. Until midpoint, it’s a real slog. The characters are good, especially what French does with unreliable Toby, but French is best with detectives, and this mystery is not nearly as good as any from the Dublin Murder Squad.

m
maipenrai
Nov 16, 2018

My reaction to this mystery is very mixed. Sometimes I really liked it; other times I thought that it needed editing to eliminate unnecessary repetition and meandering to unrelated topics. Mild recommendation. Kristi & Abby Tabby

l
lund0682
Nov 14, 2018

Excellent writing and good character development, but there was just something missing from this book. I don't think I really liked the main character. The story was interesting, but I found the ending to be rather disappointing. It was compelling enough that I finished reading it. That's about as strong of a recommendation as I can give it.

j
jenniferrabbit
Nov 06, 2018

Good writing, good characterization, carefully woven plot, but I didn’t really like it. Toby, a young man who works in an art gallery is beat up by burglars and left for dead. He does not completely recover physically, including some brain damage and PTSD issues. He moves to a family country house to take care of a dying uncle. Renewing relationships with cousins brings up hints of forgotten past episodes, and then police show up to investigate a skeleton found in the hollow of a big elm in the garden. Because Toby has holes in his memory and overwhelming anxiety the reader can’t tell reality from fantasy, or whether the other characters are presenting honest pictures of the past. I found this interesting enough to keep reading (the writing is great) but the ending was unsatisfactory to me, and on the whole, I would not give it a rousing recommendation.

Hillsboro_RobinD Nov 04, 2018

First Dublin Murder Squad installment from the point of view of a suspect. Slow build, deep character development, cataclysmic ending.

k
kwinkler55
Nov 04, 2018

NYT BR "extraordinary new novel - equal parts crime thriller and psychological study"

DPLjulie Oct 31, 2018

I just love Tana French-- judging from the waitlist I see she's enjoying the popularity she deserves. Read all her books, and don't worry about the order. They're brilliantly read, too, if you're an audio fan. I understand the comment about benefitting from an editor, but for me the length and featured "extraneous" turns are a large part of the charm.

k
koe55
Oct 29, 2018

A total page-turner of a literary mystery!

g
gbohomegirl7
Oct 27, 2018

Although the plot of this book is very similar to her very excellent 'In the Woods,' Ms. French possibly wanted to pursue it from a different angle. However, this book would have greatly benefited from more extensive editing, weeding out HUGE chunks of extraneous dialogue. Otherwise, the storyline, mystery, & resolution all come together quite well.

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JCLGraceB Oct 18, 2018

JCLGraceB thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over

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